Let's Talk About How-To Books

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Fruitbat

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Does anyone else around here write them or want to try?

I'm working on my third one right now.

This is all just my own experience so far, not meant to be any objective statements:

I find them much easier to write than fiction.

They sell better, too. What is that saying.... With fiction, you're selling people your dream. But with nonfiction, you're selling them their dream.

I think they're not as satisfying (to write), though. Or maybe they're just satisfying in a different way.

With the first two anyway, I've been done with what I had to say after about 100 pages. So I stop there and don't bother trying to pad it.

I think even in paperback, that length is just fine for a guide. But if it was much shorter, it would look like a pamphlet rather than a book, which would not be as much fun at all. I really like holding my own physical books with my own fake names on the covers. :p

Yet, 100 pages is short enough that I can see the end before I even start. I'm motivated because I know for sure that I can and will finish it and it won't take all that long.

I didn't realize self-publishing would be so much fun. It is. It, too, is very motivating because I know for sure, before I even start, that it will go out there. Also, I can do everything just how I want. Whoopie! Well, ya can't have everything. A big publisher would probably think my sales were hilarious but I don't really care. I'm old and crabby and like to do things my own way.

Anybody have anything to share about how-to books?
 
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Fruitbat

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No one else is writing a how-to book? :cry:
 

T Robinson

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Yes, but it is a while off. Can't get totally serious till I retire, due to legal issues.
 

gingerwoman

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You mean "how to write fiction"? It's on my bucket list. I want to have more fiction actually published before I do though.
 

Fruitbat

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I mean any kind of how-to (or self help) book. :)
 

atthebeach

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I am writing nonfiction, but academic/textbook. Of course, any how-to could be considered a type of "textbook", but mine is specific to a targeted set of classes or instructors (while yours could be for anyone, taking classes or not, which is great).

I don't have a comparison to fiction, but my thoughts for me are as follows.

After years of collecting information and research, and becoming an expert in my field, I am compiling a nonfiction work for students and professionals in the field.

I also have some ideas for novels I would love to write someday.

So at the moment, nonfiction seems harder to me, as my novels I could write without the research (I feel like I could write them and then improve as I revise and edit).

But then, it would depend on how well I could write, and how much I would need to learn about fiction.

While I believe I am great at how-to writing, in the future writing my " suspense thriller" novel, or whatever the category title (something to learn already!) would require an additional set of skills (developing characters, scenes, etc).

I believe a good writer is a good writer, and that many of my nonfiction writing skills will transfer to fiction. But that with these skills, I will hopefully identify what is not working as I write my novel (and of course that is what drafts are for). I may even need to research more on character development, etc.

But how much research on fiction writing will I need to write a great novel? I don't know. It could be a lot. It could be minimal. I won't know until then (but this story has been developing in my mind for quite some time, so I am excited to find out someday).

So from my point of view right now, I feel nonfiction is harder, due to the work and prep it demands (and yes I know novels require prep, but this is just from my current viewpoint, IMHO, that the intense research and work I had to do for nonfiction is much more than the story developing in my mind will require). But, I will not truly know until I try my novel which I will feel is the most difficult.

And I wonder if it depends book by book, and/or person by person? My second book on this nonfiction topic will be much easier to write because of the prep I did in the first one. So, while writing that second book, if I also start my novel, I might feel that fiction is harder, since it is new to me. However, perhaps I should include the initial research I did for the first book as work for the second. If so, then nonfiction feels harder again.

Whew!!! Back and forth- :e2smack:

Perhaps some others who write both fiction and nonfiction could suggest the differences they experience.


Either way, congratulations on writing this book :)

ETA- the "Whew" part
 
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sunandshadow

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I used to want to write a "how to write fiction" book, and wrote a first draft of the first few chapters, but I'm coming from a pretty different place culturally than most current how-to-write books. (Academic culture, not ethnic. I'm a structuralist.) I couldn't find a beta reader, and I got the impression that there just wasn't much interest in what I wanted to write; I'd get way more enthusiastic feedback from writing an equal amount of fiction. :/
 

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Several years ago I started a how-to, but it didn't lend itself to being an easy write, so I have only ever gotten a few thousand words, but that wasn't surprising considering the subject: procrastination. I may get back to it again, someday.
 

Fruitbat

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Several years ago I started a how-to, but it didn't lend itself to being an easy write, so I have only ever gotten a few thousand words, but that wasn't surprising considering the subject: procrastination. I may get back to it again, someday.

LOL! That would be great included in the Author's Note, so people would know you've done your research. :)
 
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King Neptune

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LOL! That would be great included in the Author's Note, so people would know you've done your research. :)

I'd certainly have a foreword about how it had been carefully researched over decades. Some of the material is quite good.
 

wallfull

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I write "how-to" books for parents and children. They're traditionally published, rather than self-published.
This type of book can be as creative or dry as you make it! My books generally have fictional vignettes (based on composites of kids/families I've known) to break up the text, and there's more creativity in turning academic research into something usable. I'm also a fanatic about the rhythm of language.
 

Fruitbat

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As long as you're an expert in the field, good. If not, you're probably selling readers broken dreams.

That's always possible, but then many, many things don't neatly fit into "a field." Or, if they do, you can still read everything out there and find "the experts" may well not be as knowledgeable about a particular niche of "the field" as you are.

Obviously, if you don't know what you're talking about, the book would be useless at best. But there is quite a lot the average person knows or can learn. Blanket statements either way leave lots of gaps. I would not at all feel like you can't write any nonfiction books just because you don't have a PhD or thirty years experience on a particular job, or whatever.

I can name hundreds of topics that a layperson could very well write a useful nonfiction book about. Personal experience and research are quite valid. Well, depending on the topic, of course. But then I am pretty sure most reasonable laypeople get the difference and wouldn't write a book about how to perform heart surgery or anything...
 
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Fruitbat

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@James- For example, I bet if you thought about it for a short while, you could jot down ideas for at least half a dozen nonfiction books you could competently write. And that would be aside from your field, writing. Just from your own life experiences and research you've already done for whatever reason or have enough interest in to do for the book. Then go on Amazon for a preliminary check that it's not already out there or if it is, that you still have something significant and useful to add that's not already out there. And there you go.

Also, I'm finding it's a great back-up plan for those lulls in imagination or motivation for fiction writing.
 
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ColinDunbar

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I'm nearly finished my first How-to, in a series of four books. After a lifetime in technical writing, it's a natural fit for me to move to the How-to genre. And I'm crazy about learning new things, so it's a double whammy :)
 

rolandogomez

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My first four books were 8 1/2 by 11 inch format, published through a publisher, and 128 pages in length with tons of photos as my books are photography "how-to" books in the glamour/fashion/beauty/nude genre. They all sold well, though I prefer self-publishing now for how-to books. I also co-authored one photography "how-to" book. As a disclaimer, photography how-to books are a bit different. We have to explain theory, process, fundamentals, guidelines, basics, etc., then you the reader has to put that together to create the result. It's not a recipe book, it's a "this is what you need to know" and you now have to figure out how to do it on your own in your own style, as photography is very subjective.

Is there advantages to how-to books, well yes, it makes you a subject matter expert and for that matter, most fiction books will do this, how-to or not. My fifth book on the power of photography to help build or rebuild self-esteem, is self-published, currently free on iTunes only, but soon on Amazon, is more about photography knowledge and how to use that knowledge to understand the results. My sixth how-to book is on on social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook. My seventh book, while somewhat a how-to, is more a self-help and mainstream book. I guess how to can come in various forms and not all how-to books are step-by-step, put-it-together instruction manuals that many perceive. I guess I like the approach this is how I did it, this is what you need to know, now go do it yourself.

As far as page count, like mentioned earlier, my first four had tons of photos, 128-pages (this has to do with how a printing press uses "signature" sheets of either 8 or 16 pages, i.e., 128/16 = 8 signatures) and the rough draft manuscript was approximately 25,000 words whereas my last book, self-published, ebook, print on demand and soon audio book, was 193 pages Kindle, 254 printed 9x6 inch, 57,000 plus words, and signature sheets were not an issue. So today, especially with self-publishing, I wouldn't get caught up in page count, just make sure you have the words to back up what you are writing about.

As far as fiction vs. non-fiction and how easy one is over the other, that one I don't know as I have done a fiction novel yet, but I will say if you are going to write non-fiction, especially how-to books, you'd better be skilled and knowledgable in what you are writing about unless a company hires you to write a technical manual and supplies the talking points, i.e., technical writing like step-by-step how-to-install this component, or an owner's manual, etc.

Well that's my two-centavos worth! Rg
 

Siri Kirpal

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Check out the book in my sig. It was the faster book to write and the fastest book to sell...as befits its topic.

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SDSPNovel

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I have a self help book in the works. Im shooting for the 100 page mark. I am not an "expert" in the field I am writing about (relationships), but I studied psychology in college and after going through a divorce and years of therapy, I want to publish a self help book that is a little less psycho-babble if you will, and more of real life experiences combined with some humor to actually explain what it means to have baggage and how to deal with it, understanding your emotional self, etc... We will see how it turns out! Looking forward to any advice on proceeding once I am done with it.
 

Max Vaehling

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I started my blog about writing comics years ago with the vague notion of turning it into a book once I've gone through all the steps myself. I've self-published several comics since and a colleague has bet me to the writing book by starting a blog that was essentially the book as it got made. So I guess that concept wasn't as self-actualizing as I thought.

Last year, an editor I worked with on non-ficiton anthologies asked me to write a non-fiction book about any offbeat sociological aspect of comic book culture I liked, but we haven't settled on one yet. To get back into the non-ficiton habit, I looked at my blog again for an aspect I can turn into an ebook. I looked at both the articles and the most popular search terms if anything stuck out, and several did. So now I'm writing a how-to book about generating story ideas.

It was originally supposed to be just one of those free 20+ page ebooks sites sometimes offer to generate a following for whatever else they have to say (and then I wanted to move on to the next topic on the list), but I'm now at 60+ manuscript pages, so I'm thinking of releasing it with Create Space or something, maybe alongside a free teaser version.

I'm clearly not an expert at generating successful ideas, or I'd have sold way more of those comic books (then again, that new movie, The Martian, sounds a lot like one of my ideas), but I've developed a process I'm pretty sure I can teach. Or at least give pointers to.
 
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Sloane

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Okay, I'll bite. I think you make a great point that they are good money-makers, if you are researching the potential market and writing to it. I wrote a book on raising dairy goats, ended up about 90Kworks, and with illustrations that put me well over 250 pages. I smiled at your reasons for enjoying it. I liked your point that you are writing to sell someone their dream - so true!

I'm working on a nonfiction right now about dogs and behavioral issues. Kind of specialized.

As an editor, I do want to say generally that there are a lot of how-to books on Amazon that are badly done - riddled with bad grammar and spelling errors, and badly structured, with cheesy titles and sub-par covers. If you are going to do it, watch quality. Quality will always sell better in the long run and will keep your book marketable longer. Put some thought into the title and into the cover design. Make it attractive, the same way you would with a fiction offering.

I have to say, as someone who has published both fiction and non-fiction, I don't find writing non-fiction more enjoyable or easier. I put a lot of research into writing historical fiction - but I enjoy that. It's just different. Apples and oranges. But that's me. No one should be forcing themselves to write anything they don't enjoy a lot. If you are having such a ball writing how-to's, I would say you have found your niche! :)
 
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Mikaelra

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I am writing one, but it is not a main focus right now.

I shared parts of it with a writing group a few years ago. The most important thing i leaned doing that is that you really have to write for the "beginners mind." For example, if you are teaching something that involves steps or procedures, break it up into small bite-size pieces. Spell it out clearly. Step one. Step two. Etc... And give lots of examples and anecdotes..

Write for the "newbie" and then get some "newbie" beta readers and see if they understand it. If a newbie can follow along.. you are doing good!
 

celadon

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Hey, my first post here! I'm currently writing my second how-to book. It is on an art-related subject that I'm reasonably capable in, so I don't feel like I'm ill-equipped to write about it. Besides, with any art related subject, presumably you're going to show your artwork on the cover and inside the book, so if you aren't as good as you think you are, everyone else can see it right away, due to the lack of quality of your art!

I like writing how-to articles and have done so for years, on websites, forums, and so forth. If it's a subject that I'm interested in, I'll try to write about it. I've gotten wonderful feedback from that; people say that they've been helped by my tutorials, so that encourages me to write more.

I've only dabbled in fiction and to be honest, it's very intimidating. I may try it some day, but right now I have too many non-fiction ideas to write!
 

ElleHarries

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I'm writing my second How-to book. I I’ve nearly finished. I wrote the first one two years ago. I am not an expert in the field I am wrote about \(gardening) (It is the same as you, SDSPNovel) however it was quite successful :).
 

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